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NFL Draft: Where Will Top Tackles Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal Land?

Will one of the draft’s best blockers be available at No. 5? Plus, Matt Corral’s stock, the Seahawks’ future at QB and more.

One day away …

Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Evan Neal (73) in action during the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the 2021 Cotton Bowl college football CFP national semifinal game at AT&T Stadium.

From Mr. Hopium (@draft4Lineman): Likelihood of one of Neal & Ekwonu being there at 5?

Hop, I think there’s a decent likelihood, so long as one doesn’t go first overall to the Jaguars. Detroit won’t take an offensive lineman at No. 2, and then (in the Jags-take-a-rusher scenario) I see the Texans taking one of those two off the board. If it’s NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu, my bet would be that the Jets take Sauce Gardner, and Alabama’s Evan Neal makes it to five. If the Texans take Neal, then I think there’s a good shot the Jets take Ekwonu at No. 4.

And if Neal and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross are there at Nos. 5 and 6, the buzz holds that it’ll be tackle/tackle at those spots, to the Giants and Panthers, respectively.

While we’re here, I’m starting to think, whether it’s the Jags, Texans or Jets pulling the tag, there’s a good likelihood that Ekwonu’s going to be the first one taken. He’s a little less of projection than Cross is, coming from Mike Leach’s offense. As we mentioned in Tuesday’s ”What We're Hearing” column, he doesn’t have the medical concerns that Neal does. And he probably plays with a little more edge than either, while also bringing a lot of positional versatility.

From bway (@bway9401): Re Corral attending the draft yet not being mocked in anyone’s R1is this a function of teams being quiet? Do you expect him to go Day 1?

I don’t think so, B’way, although Corral—a polarizing prospect for a few reasons—has been connected to teams through the rumor mill. I’ve heard his name for both the Seahawks and Falcons, and with the Saints, too (though it might be more the coaches, with the scouts in New Orleans liking Kenny Pickett). The question then would be whether Seattle or Atlanta would take him in the top 10, and I think the answer is no.

But both can provide a bit of an example of how things might go down on Thursday night, since each could take a position player (I had the Falcons taking Drake London at No. 8 and the Seahawks tabbing Derek Stingley Jr. at No. 9 in my mock) first, then double back with their second pick and get a QB. And with each team carrying two second-rounders (Seattle has 40 and 41, the Falcons have 43 and 58), both have the firepower to get to the bottom of Round 1.

To me, something like that happening for Corral would be more likely than him going in the top 10. This, though, is as unpredictable a year at the top as I can remember. So we’ll see.

From Evan Greenfield (@EvanGreenfield6): Seahawks have any interest in drafting Desmond Ridder 1st round (either trade in late first round or at 9)?

Evan, see the above—my guess, and this is a guess, is that Seattle would take Corral if it takes a quarterback at all. But you do hear a little buzz that Ridder could sneak in the bottom of the first round, and teams certainly have the radar up for Tennessee taking him.

With Ridder, really, the central question is clear, and that’s whether you think his accuracy can be corrected. Some coaches think, because he never really worked with a personal coach until after his junior year, that intensive mechanical work could do for him what it once did for Josh Allen. Others are harder to convince.

Regardless, it’s going to take work.

“What NFL quarterbacking has become, as a position coach, you have a certain amount of time with a guy, and then the rest is outsourced, and then you get them back,” one NFC offensive coordinator said the other day, as we talked about Ridder. “Can guys work on mechanics? No doubt. But at the end of day, what the NFL is, you have to throw from dirty pockets and still be accurate. So you get the guys coaching, and they can do it in OTAs and in camp. But the true test, is when things are sped up, and guys are at their feet.

“It’s hard to rewire a guy in that way.”

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This much is for sure—if anyone’s gonna do the work to get there, based on his reputation, it’s Ridder. We’ll see if he can make it happen.

From Omicron survivor (@MaazAAbbasiMD): Why is Detroit not being mocked to pick a QB? Goff is not the answer, I think they know that too.

Omicron survivor, I don’t think they’ll take one at No. 2. Maybe at 32. But even then, to me, that raises questions. Here, for your edification, is a list of quarterbacks who, over the last 20 years, were drafted in the back half of the first round (17–32).

• Jordan Love, Packers.
• Lamar Jackson, Ravens.
• Paxton Lynch, Broncos.
• Johnny Manziel, Browns.
• Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings.
• Brandon Weeden, Browns.
• Tim Tebow, Broncos.
• Josh Freeman, Buccaneers.
• Joe Flacco, Ravens.
• Brady Quinn, Browns.
• Aaron Rodgers, Packers.
• Jason Campbell, Washington.
• J.P. Losman, Bills.
• Chad Pennington, Jets.

Rodgers and Jackson are home runs. Flacco’s close to one—Baltimore won a Super Bowl, and got 11 years from him. The rest are shaky, and some had fatal flaws, whether physical or otherwise, that prevented them from going higher, and ultimately sunk them as pros.

The point I’m getting to here relates to the whole concept of circling back to get a quarterback with your second or third pick, a concept that on paper looks good (and really worked out for the Bengals in 2011 and the Raiders in ’14). The problem with it, to me, is that necessarily means you don’t feel that strongly about the guy you’re picking, or else you wouldn’t mess around, you’d just take him.

And that doesn’t go for all cases, but I do think it’s something to consider. Especially in an era where the next decade’s going to demand a championship quarterback to outgun the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert.


From Chevy Jas (@ChevyJas): If Trent Baalke takes Walker over Hutchinson, and AH continues to dominate like he did in college and Walker continues to be athletic, but continues to put up pedestrian #'s, is Baalke's time in the NFL over?

Chevy, I think it’s too much to put Baalke’s ability to remain employed all on the one pick he’ll make in the 8 p.m. ET hour on Thursday night. But I do believe he’s keenly aware of how perception sits right now for him, and how it could affect his job security going forward. He also has to know that Doug Pederson inherited him and only came to Jacksonville after getting past initial trepidation over the job.

So if he takes a big swing and misses on a player like Travon Walker, with the obvious missed potential there, while passing on a safer thing in Aidan Hutchinson, it certainly could make both the way he’s viewed in town, and his relationship with his coach (who could use another offensive lineman to put in front of Trevor Lawrence), worse.

That’s why I think it’d take a lot of conviction on Baalke’s part to pull the trigger on Walker. And if he does, good for him. I can respect that.

From Steve Toland (@SteveToland555): While it seems that Nakobe Dean/Jordan Davis are the logical Georgia targets for Pats. Would you be surprised if it was Quay Walker or Lewis Cine that they ultimately end up with?

Steve, I’ll go through each for you here, one by one …

Davis: I don’t think he’ll be there when the Patriots are picking, but I do think it’d be a really good fit. Davis is the sort of “Planet Player” that Bill Belichick’s old boss, Bill Parcells, used to talk about, and pairing him inside with the disruptive Christian Barmore would give the Patriots a really solid foundation in the middle of a defense that needs some rebuilding. But again … I don’t think he’ll make it to 21.

Dean: An intangible fit for New England through and through, and I do think he’ll be available when the Patriots are on the clock. The problem is his medical issues are extensive, and he’s small for an off-ball linebacker in Belichick’s scheme to begin with, so whether he’d hold up would be an even bigger question for New England than others. I think he’s the kind of guy Belichick would love. I don’t think the fit is there.

Walker: He profiles, at 6'4" and 240 pounds, as a Dont’a Hightower type, with rare athleticism for his size. The question fit-wise with New England is whether he has the football IQ to play in the middle of the defense—it’s been a question with him, and the fact that it took him until his fourth year at Georgia to start is seen as a bit of a smoking gun.

Cine: He’s got a lot of room to grow, hits like a ton of bricks, and can play all over the defense, plus he’s seen as a pretty bright kid. So there’s reasons why this would fit. The problem for New England would be whether he’s redundant to the young box safety they already have, Kyle Dugger.

So of the four, it feels to me like Davis would be the best fit. And maybe Walker would be in play for them, if they feel comfortable that his knowhow would be good enough to play in one of the league’s most complex defensive schemes.

From Albert Delgado jr (@AlbertDelgadoj3): What are the Arizona Cardinals going to do with the 23rd pick and if there’s any chance the Cardinals can trade up and get one of the top 4 wideouts in the draft.

Albert, I don’t know what they’re going to do. But there are two things I’d keep an eye on with them—and I think each could elicit a trade up. The first would be potentially pursuing a pass rusher. The issue there would be how far you’d have to go up (probably into the top 10) to get one of the first four of them. The second would be finding a burner for the receiver group, and I think that could require a pretty aggressive move up too, if we’re talking about making a run at a Jameson Williams or Chris Olave.

Considering that might necessitate a jump of 10 spots, it’d probably cost Arizona a Day 2 pick (and likely the Cards’ second-round) to pull it off. And I don’t know if they want to pay that freight, since filling one need this way would make it tough to fill the other one.

That’s why Jahan Dotson at 23 feels to me like a nice reasonable play. Or even maybe a short trade down before taking Michigan edge David Ojabo (so long as they’re comfortable with drafting a guy in the first round who’ll miss a good chunk of his rookie year).

Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen (41) looks at the quarterback during the first half against the Atlanta Falcons at TIAA Bank Field.

From Richard Ito (@rich_ito): Why are the Jags seemingly hesitant to pick up the 5th year option for Josh Allen?

Richard, there are different reasons why teams hold off. Sometimes, it’s a negotiating tactic. Sometimes, it’s to keep a guy engaged in the early stages of the offseason program, to see how he reacts to having to earn it. Sometimes, it’s because teams want to see how the draft is going to play out before making that decision.

In this case, it actually could be to keep teams guessing on what they’re going to do at No. 1.

Now, you might say, why would the Jaguars care about that? They have the first pick, after all, so they’ll get whoever they want. That’s true. But if Jacksonville wanted to try to trade the pick, and I think they at least want to try to explore that in every way possible, it behooves them to leave it open-ended—that way they could get offers from teams that need tackles and teams that need edge rushers, since they still could go either way.

Will it work? Probably not. There’s been no real interest to my knowledge in that pick from other teams. But there’s no harm in trying.

From Cam Marino (@MarinoNFL): What’s the latest with Atlanta? Shocking that there’s been no talk on Hamilton being the name.

Cam, I’m not shocked that the Falcons haven’t really been in on Kyle Hamilton. They took Richie Grant with the 40th pick last year, and I don’t know how strong a fit the big, tall Hamilton would be for Dean Pees’s defense—my guess is he’d have a more specialized role in that scheme that might not rise, value-wise, to being worth the eighth pick.

Most of what I’ve heard on the Falcons, and the eighth pick, has centered on receivers, and USC’s Drake London and Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson in particular. My sense is an edge rusher could be in play, too.

From Brad (@TheRealMister_B): Is there clout to KT slipping and Dallas having the capital to go get him?

Brad, I don’t think Kayvon Thibodeaux will fall out of the top 10 altogether. I don’t think Detroit would takes him at No. 2, and I’m skeptical that the Jets would at No. 4. Maybe the Panthers would at No. 6 if the tackles are gone. I think the Giants might at No. 7. So if I had to guess, I think he’ll probably land somewhere in the back half of the top 10.

I don’t think Dallas will makes that kind of move up—to go from No. 24 into the top 10 would take a haul of picks, and maybe even next year’s first-rounder. But maybe they’d consider something if Thibodeaux somehow dropped into the teens (which I don’t think will happen).

From Greg (@panther1gb89): Jimmy G or Baker for Panthers this weekend?

Greg, if they don’t take a quarterback on Thursday or Friday, then maybe. I don’t think necessarily they’ll take one at No. 6, but I see a fun scenario where they could grab one in the second round, if you’re willing to entertain a fake trade scenario.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, Washington wants to jump Atlanta to get London. Here’s a scenario to get it done …

Washington gets: sixth pick, fourth-round pick (137th overall).

Carolina gets: 11th pick, second-round pick (47th overall).

Then, in this circumstance, the Panthers take Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning at 11 and North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell at 47. And boom, both needs are addressed, with what I think is a fair deal (Carolina’s picks, Nos. 6 and 137, add to 1,637.5 on the value chart; Washington’s, Nos. 11 and 47, add to 1,650).

But sure, if the Panthers don’t take a QB at No. 6, or swing something like my fun fake scenario, then I do think they’ll discuss Jimmy Garoppolo and Baker Mayfield. (I’d also mention here that I’ve heard offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo believes there’s still something to work with in Sam Darnold. Don’t shoot the messenger.)

From Joseph Will (@SuperWillSports): Any chance Washington selects Jameson Williams?

Joe, I think Williams is to some degree redundant to what the Commanders already have in Terry McLaurin, and they probably want someone bigger (Drake London) or more versatile (Chris Olave) than Williams. Plus, I know Ron Rivera views this, his third year, as go time, so having to wait until midseason for a receiver he took 11th overall, I’d think, would be a tough thing for him and his staff.

From Mac Engel (@MacEngelProf): Overall do you trust the process?

Always, Mac. Always.

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